Fiction A to Z
The Last Cruise by Kate ChristensenWhat it's about: the final voyage of the Queen Isabella, decked out to look as it did in 1957 on its luxurious maiden voyage. Yet neither above nor below decks is all smooth sailing.
Why you might like it: This literate comedy of manners illuminates divisions between the haves and have-nots -- but it also floats into territory fraught with danger as the ship begins having mechanical problems.
Reviewers say: "romantic, suspenseful, delightful, and nerve-wracking" (Library Journal).
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa MoshfeghFeaturing: a 24-year-old unnamed narrator who's decided to literally hibernate, aided by prescription drugs that will enable her to sleep for days at a time.
What happens: Her plan succeeds in allowing her to avoid the life she doesn't much like -- but her unchecked drug regimen has consequences.
Is it for you? Yes, if you like brutal, in-depth character studies, dark humor, or existential novels.
What We Were Promised by Lucy TanWhat it's about: After two decades in the U.S., Wei and Lina Zhen return to China and begin a newly wealthy life in Shanghai. Housekeeper Sunny witnesses their discomfort and unhappiness, which increases with the arrival of Wei's brother Qiang, for whom Lina still pines.
You might also like: Kevin Kwan's Crazy Rich Asians (for a more exaggerated read), or Diksha Basu's The Windfall, which likewise deals with a family struggling with cultural conflicts and status.
Enchanted August by Brenda BowenWhat it is: an updated retelling of the 1923 bestseller The Enchanted April: four mismatched individuals spend an August in Maine, coming to terms with personal disappointments and finding common ground.
Why you might like it: With an old-fashioned feel and an inviting setting, this feel-good story bubbles with optimism despite broken hearts and other troubles.
Reviewers say: "exceedingly likable" (Kirkus Reviews).
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk KiddFeaturing: white 14-year-old Lily Owens, who lives with her mean-spirited father on his rural South Carolina peach farm, and Rosaleen, the black woman who cares for her.
What happens: Just days after the Civil Rights Act passes in 1964, a violent, racist altercation causes Lily and Rosaleen to flee to Tiburon, South Carolina, where three African American beekeeping sisters (May, June, and August) take them in.
Read it for: the relationship between introverted Lily and independent Rosaleen, and the friendship they build with the Calendar sisters, who have a connection to Lily's mother.
Augustown by Kei MillerWhat it is: the recounting of Jamaica's complex history, framed by the ruthless cutting of a boy's 'locs in 1982, and the story his great aunt tells him of Alexander Bedward, a preacher who predated Rastafarianism and likewise got cut down by a repressive authority.
Why you might like it: Vivid writing elicits a strong sense of Jamaica, as does the author's use of dialect (he's Jamaican himself).
Reviewers say: Both the community and the individuals who form it are "sharp [and] sensitive" (Kirkus Reviews).
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire NorthWhat it's about: Harry August is a kalachakra, an immortal reborn over and over again with his memories more or less intact. At the end of his eleventh life, he receives a message -- the world is going to end, and only he can stop it.
You might also like: Matt Haig's How to Stop Time, another engaging novel featuring an effectively immortal protagonist who attempts to make sense of his own existence.
The Girls of August by Anne Rivers SiddonsWhat it is: a leisurely, moving tale of women's lives and relationships set on the beaches of South Carolina. But don't expect placidity; storms both physical and emotional threaten to overwhelm three long-time friends and the newcomer they're including for the first time.
For fans of: the relationship-oriented novels of Dorothea Benton Frank, Robyn Carr, or Barbara Delinsky.
Want a taste? "I stood in my kitchen, barefoot, anxious, muddling the sugar and mint that would spice the pitcher of mojitos I intended to ply the girls with."
Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline WoodsonWhat it's about: August is 35 the year she returns to Brooklyn to bury her father; a chance encounter with a friend in her old neighborhood prompts a flood of memories from her past.
Why you might like it: August's youth was marked by the little-understood absence of her mother and a sense of not belonging, despite close friendships and a fair amount of freedom. Her memories illuminate the possibilities -- and challenges -- she encountered as an African American girl (and teen) in the 1970s.
Reviewers say: This tale of friendship, love, and loss is a "stunning achievement" (Kirkus Reviews).
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